FAA constructing new ‘nerve center’

 - December 31, 2008, 7:01 AM

Federal and local officials broke ground early last month for a new Air Traffic Control System Command Center colocated with the FAA’s Potomac Tracon southwest of Dulles International Airport (IAD).

Placing the command center adjacent to Potomac Tracon enables the FAA to use utilities and infrastructure put in place when the Tracon was built several years ago on land that once was the home of the Vint Hill Farm military base. The existing command center on leased land next to IAD will close when its lease expires in 2011.

Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell described the command center as the FAA’s nerve center. “NASA has mission control, we have this,” he said. While the command center does not directly control traffic, it oversees the nation’s entire ATC system, including control towers, approach and departure facilities and en route centers. The new 63,000-sq-ft building will also monitor all electronic navigation aids.
The center’s main mission is management of the entire airspace system to balance demand with capacity, and to deal with weather and other potential disruptions to air traffic.

“The command center gives us the big picture,” said Sturgell. “It’s where we untangle the bottlenecks before they ripple through the rest of the airspace. Every morning, bright and early, and continuing every two hours throughout the day, there’s a teleconference about the status of the national airspace.”

About 300 controllers, managers and support staff members will move from the existing facility to the $22 million command center, which the FAA said will house some of the most sophisticated air traffic display and communications equipment available. Equipping the center will cost an estimated $46 million.